If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above,
where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
Question 53 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “How was Christ exalted in his ascension?” It gives the answer, “Christ was exalted in his ascension, in that having after his resurrection often appeared unto and conversed with his apostles, speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and giving them commission to preach the gospel to all nations, forty days after his resurrection, he, in our nature, and as our head, triumphing over enemies, visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither, and to prepare a place for us, where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world.” Last time we looked at this question we considered the meaning, or the “what,” of each of the phrases in the answer. Today we will examine the “Why.” Why did Jesus ascend into heaven for us? Or to put it another way, what is the purpose and significance of Christ’s ascension?
Notice how our Scripture verse at first glance seems to indicate merely the resurrection of Christ. In that case it would be referring to that rich teaching of Scripture that declares that even as the believer died with Christ: meaning that all of the virtue of Christ’s death is imputed to the believer by faith; so also he rose with Christ: meaning that by faith the believer is alive to righteousness forevermore. Romans 6 explains this doctrine at length and in some detail, and it is a wonderfully glorious doctrine. It shows how in justification, the believer is united to Christ in His death and resurrection. By faith in Christ we have died to sin and we have been made alive to God, never to die again. However, our verse appears to go beyond that teaching to apply the ascension of Christ to the believer. Thus, we are told not merely that we are alive with Christ, but that we are to “seek those things, which are above, where Christ is.” Paul does not leave us to guess where that is but he tells us, “sitting at the right hand of God.”
Jesus sat down at the right hand of God upon ascending into heaven. Therefore, if we as Christians are to seek those things which are above, where Jesus right now is, then it can only mean that we are to seek heavenly and not earthly things, for Jesus is in heaven. And He got there by ascending into heaven in His resurrected body. Accordingly the having been “raised with Christ” at the beginning of the verse appears to indicate the ascending of Him bodily into heaven more than His being raised from death to life. And in fact the next verse seems to build on that connection: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). That is, since you are positionally and spiritually joined to Jesus by faith when He ascended into heaven you also – spiritually and by faith – ascended into heaven. Therefore, since you are in a manner spiritually and positionally in heaven, set your mind on the things in heaven! Now why is all of this important? What does it matter to consider ourselves with Christ in heaven?
Because this conclusion – to the degree that we can grasp it in real faith – will powerfully influence our ability to live the Christian life. As Christians we are not merely alive by faith (justification); we must live by faith (sanctification). That is to say we must live out our faith in Christ in the remainder of our lives here on earth. What this faith must apprehend in order to realize this kind of heavenly life is to believe that we are ascended with Christ in heaven. If we were physically right now with God in heaven surely we would not set our minds on the things of the earth but on the things where we were, the things with God in heaven. Paul is challenging us to believe and live as those who are in heaven with Christ. This is the true application of the ascension of Christ to us: Jesus ascended into heaven in a victorious human nature and as the federal head of a new race of victorious humans. His ascension, and therefore the victory of His ascension, was for all of His chosen race. As the Catechism says, “in our nature, as our head, triumphing over enemies” He went up into heaven “to receive gifts for men, to raise up our affections thither.” Scripture says we have been “seated with Him in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). It is a spiritual reality. May God grant that we would believe it to the point that we would live like it!